By JUDY SHERIDAN
Parker County residents travel Bankhead Highway daily, thinking little, if ever, about its origins.
But the road has an auspicious past — as a part of the nation’s second transcontinental route — that is now being uncovered by the Texas Historical Commission.
Funded by TxDOT and the Texas Legislature and headed up by the Austin firm of Hardy-Heck-Moore Inc., a two-year project is progressing to document the road’s history in Texas, as well as the landmarks along its path.
Coincidentally, it is also the topic of a new book by Fort Worth author Dan Smith, who was captivated by the road — marked “Old Bankhead Highway” — as he biked through Aledo some 20 years ago.
The book, entitled “Texas Highway No. 1, The Bankhead Highway in Texas,” has been available on Amazon for about a month, Smith said, and its first printing is almost sold out.
Aledo city officials learned of Bankhead’s historic status a few years ago as they argued against a waste transfer station that would have increased truck traffic on the road.
Now, after conversations with the THC and Smith, they have decided to seek a Texas Historical Marker.
“We are in the process of acquiring a historic marker to put at the intersection of Bankhead and 1187, which I think is really exciting,” Mayor Kit Marshall announced during a past council session.
If the marker can be secured — a lengthy process according to Smith — it would define the part of the route that might prove to be the longest intact portion in the state, and possibly the nation.
“The stretch from 1187 north of Aledo all the way toward and through Weatherford called Old Bankhead Highway is the longest stretch still called Old Bankhead Highway in Texas — and probably in America,” Smith said. “I guess it’s about 20 miles.”
According to the THC — which completed field surveys and a series of public outreach meetings in 10 Texas cities this month — the Bankhead Highway got its start in 1916.
Named for U.S. senator and supporter John H. Bankhead of Alabama, it crossed 850 miles of Texas between Washington, D.C., and San Diego, Calif., roughly following U.S. 67 and U.S. 80 as it passed Arlington, Fort Worth, Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Eastland and others.
Marshall and Mayor Pro Tem Bill McLeRoy participated in one of the public outreach meetings in Mineral Wells in October, where the two met author Dan Smith.
Later, McLeRoy purchased a metal road sign Smith created, donating it to the city with instructions to display it in a useful location.
The sign now hangs on an interior wall in an employee workspace area.
“I’ve been peddling these across the state like Johnny Appleseed,” Smith said later. “There are several on ranch gates across Parker County.
“The amazing thing about Bankhead in Texas is that most of that 1,000 miles is still there. Some is buried under the interstate, but much is hidden on ranch land — in plain sight.”
McLeRoy is happy to see the road getting some attention.
“As a former history professor involved in archeology, I’m delighted to see Bankhead recognized as one of our nation’s early twentieth century transcontinental routes,” he said, “right here in our own backyard!”
The project will be finished in July of 2014.